Excerpt from A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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A Girl Like That

by Tanaz Bhathena

A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena X
A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2018, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2019, 400 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Michelle Anya Anjirbag
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A police officer removed my school ID card from my ripped handbag. I saw him glance at my name and copy it down in his notebook: Zarin Wadia. Female. Age 16. Student. Car accident. If my English teacher, Khan Madam, was there, she would have added more: Bright student. Debating aficionado. Troublemaker. Disturbed.

The officer lifted an edge of the white shroud and compared my face to the photo on my ID. It was one of those few pictures where a photographer had managed to capture me smiling, a curl of black hair peeking out from behind my scarf, the hair partly veiling my left eye. Masa said the photo made me look like my mother during her teens. This was not a surprise. For as long as I could remember, people had told me I was my mother's mirror image. A replica of dark curls, fair skin, and brown eyes, right down to the beauty mark on my upper lip.

I did not remember my mother that much. Sometimes I could recall the soft hum of a lullaby, the cool press of a glass bangle on my cheek, the smoky fragrance of sandalwood and loban from a fire temple. Memories that were few and far between, never more than flashes of sensation. I could often recall with more clarity the first day I grew aware of my mother's absence. A hollow, nearly tangible silence in a warm room. Dust motes dancing in a stream of light from the window. November 28, 2002. The autumn of my fourth birthday. It was the week after my mother died—of cancer, they said, even though I knew it wasn't.

It was also the day a neighbor escorted me from my mother's quiet two-room flat in downtown Mumbai to the north of the city, to the one-room flat owned by my maternal aunt and uncle in Cama Parsi Colony. Masa liked the idea of having me around, since Masi couldn't have kids. She, on the other hand, was furious.

"Watch the chalk!" she snapped the moment we entered the flat. "Khodai, look at what this girl has done."

I looked down at where she was pointing—at the chalk designs she'd made on the tiles by the flat's threshold. White fish with delicate scales and red eyes surrounding a banner that now said G … ckGood Luck, as I discovered later on. Good Luck with my shoe printed in its center, powdery pink creases blurring out most of the Good and the Luck.

"All these years I've lived my life in shame because of my sister," she told Masa that night when she thought I was asleep. "At least marrying you took me away from that and shut up those horrible gossips at the Parsi Panchayat."

I didn't have much status in the world—bastard orphans usually did not—and everyone in Cama colony was quick to remind me about that, even after Masa adopted me and gave me a surname to fill in the blank left by my father.

"You don't know how lucky you are, child," said Masi's neighbor, also known to the colony kids as the Dog Lady, a woman who always smelled of 4711 Original Eau de Cologne and Pomeranian sweat. "So many children in your state usually end up on the streets! Or worse."

A month after I moved into Masa and Masi's flat, my father's lawyer managed to track me down. It was through the lawyer that Masi found out about my father's will and bank account.

"How much is in the account?" The lawyer had repeated Masi's question. "Around fifteen lakh rupees, madam. The girl's guardians are in charge of this account till she turns twenty-one."

"Thank goodness she's here with us," Masi told Masa when the lawyer left. "Who knows what would have happened to that money if she'd fallen into the wrong hands?"

Two years later, Masa accepted a new job—assistant plant manager for a meatpacking factory in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. He said we needed a fresh start.

And, for a time, we had it. In Jeddah, with its shimmery coastline, giant roundabouts, and brightly lit malls. Where the air was hot and dense and somehow always smelled of the sea.

Excerpted from A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena. Copyright © 2018 by Tanaz Bhathena. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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